Manchester United star Marcus Rashford spearheads free school meal campaign for children
A Reuters picture was indeed worth a thousand words. It captured a banner on the road into Wythenshawe, a Manchester suburb, which said:
“RASHFORD 1 BORIS 0”. Football’s No. 10 took on the United Kingdom’s No. 10 and won.
Rashford, the 22-year-old Manchester United centre-forward, has had been inspirational during the Covid-induced lockdown. He joined hands with FareShare, a charity, and raised £20 million (and counting) to help provide 3 million meals for the vulnerable children. Then he took his fight to the government, when the 10 Downing Street decided that free vouchers for families, whose children qualified for free meals, wouldn’t continue outside of ‘term time’. Rashford used Twitter and wrote an open letter to all MPs, imploring them to “find your humanity”.
He became the voice of 200,000 children who would have gone hungry without a U-turn from Boris Johnson’s government. Rashford made the hashtag, #maketheUturn, trending. He urged his followers to retweet his letter and tag their local MPs. “We aren’t beaten yet, stand strong for the 200,000 children who haven’t had a meal to eat today and keep retweeting,” he wrote.
Rashford forced the government to make a U-turn and set up a £120 million ‘Covid summer food fund’ that would help feed 1.3 million children in England during the summer holidays. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the move a “welcome U-turn”. Prime Minister Johnson acknowledged the footballer’s “contribution to the debate around poverty”. As for Rashford, this is what he wrote on Twitter: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.” Rashford used the power and influence of social media. Some people use it to post haircut videos. Rashford used it to change lives.
Growing up at Wythenshawe as one of five children raised by a single mother, Rashford has seen poverty at close quarters. As a child, he relied on free school meals. He knows the pangs of hunger. He is on £200,000-a-week at United now; a key figure in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s regeneration project. Rashford hasn’t forgotten his roots.
At 22, Rashford has become a hero and a role model. He has transcended his sport and club rivalries. “Children in our region will benefit because of the actions of this remarkable role model,” United’s arch-rivals Liverpool tweeted, adding: “From Liverpool With Love.” United’s cross-town rivals, Manchester City, posted: “Fantastic work @MarcusRashford, making Manchester proud.”
Solskjær called managing the player “an honour”. Interestingly, the United manager was asked about Rashford’s political ambition at a press conference. “I don’t think Marcus is thinking about this politically or in any other way apart from helping people and helping kids. He is a good human being. He wants to make a good change. It’s not about him,” Solskjær replied.
Rashford himself has made it clear that politics was never on his mind. Addressing all MPs, he posted: “This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard. The wellbeing of our children should ALWAYS be a priority.” Some people revel in cynicism. They often target footballers for the “silly money” they get.
Intentionally or unintentionally they tend to forget that a lot of footballers walk the extra mile to make this world a better place. Juan Mata’s Common Goal programme, in association with streetfootballworld, has already done some significant work to generate social change and improve people’s lives in different continents. Mata is one of the nicest men in football, who uses the power of his sport to bring “sustainable social change”. And in Rashford, United now have another footballer, a youngster, who will get standing ovations at every ground in England and beyond, when fans will be allowed to return to stadiums.
Not many people know that Rashford works with UNICEF also to help the underprivileged in Africa get access to clean water. Solskjær summed up Rashford’s impact. “Marcus has always been a great human being. Coming up through the Academy, I think the club recognised that early on and gave him chances. Of course we saw the talent, but you need to be a really good human being as well to come all the way through that. He’s changed the lives of so many kids this summer, which is more important than any game of football that he would probably play.” The club’s official App posted the United manager’s quotes.
Rashford has set the bar so high that it might be a challenge for him to live up to expectations all the time. After all, he is just 22 years old and people want their heroes to be spotless. But Rashford has all the attributes to raise the bar even higher. As for young kids aspiring to be footballers, they don’t need another hero.